The Arabian Theatre Murders

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The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.

The Legend of the Ancestor

 

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A murder of crows descended upon the two decaying bodies in the desert. Waves of heat shimmered across the Oasis of Mara as the crows savaged the corpses. 

Nearby, sitting under a palm tree, Akuuki watched the crows get chased away by two large turkey buzzards who claimed the bodies as theirs under the blazing Mojave sun. The sight didn’t faze Akuuki.

He was a Chemehuevi, but had many Serrano, Cahuilla, and Mojave friends and relatives scattered throughout the high desert.

The two men being ripped apart by the vultures were renegades who broke into his hidden cache and stole his food. Despite the Spirit Stick he put in the entrance of the small cave, they violated it.

When he silently snuck up on them they were packing their belongings into backpacks. He saw the red piece of blanket that was wrapped around his stash get stuffed into one of the backpacks. It was enough.

Pulling back on the hard hickory bow he sent an arrow into the tallest man’s body! The other man turned and pulled his bone hunting knife from his leather belt and threw it at the same time Akuuki’s arrow pierced his heart. The knife flew harmlessly past Akuuki who was already walking up to his kill.

He pulled the arrow out and looked over at the other man. He had an arrow protruding from his back and was crawling towards a bow and quiver near one of the backpacks. Akuuki walked over to him and grabbed him by the scalp. In one swift motion he pulled his head back, revealing his throat, and slit it with a steel Spanish knife that he had taken from an enemy.

Now he was faced with a hard decision. He was counting on his cache to extend the search for his parents murderer. The unforgiving Mojave Desert didn’t allow for many setbacks. He still had a few days food left and was able to refill his canteens from the fresh springs there.

The murderer he sought had established a reputation as an evil shaman among the people. Almost everyone in the desert feared Atok the Cruel. It was rumored he could fly, or turn himself into a coyote if he wanted. His ability to shape shift was legendary among the Serrano who claimed the old man was immortal.

Akuuki did not fear Atok. He very much wanted to find him and to make him pay for brutally murdering his parents. He knew all the tales told at firesides about the shaman, but they didn’t scare him. His desire for revenge was all-consuming. After sending his parents off to the spirit world in proper fashion he set out after Atok.

From all the stories he heard Atok had a lair near the summit of the mountain called Avi-Kwame by the Mojave, and Yuman. His tribe, the Chemehuevi, called the place Agai. Stories of Atok’s cruelty terrified the children, and made adults uneasy at every telling.

It didn’t matter why he killed his parents. When neighbors suggested that Atok killed them because Akuuki was hunting in his sacred grounds, he angrily chased them away. He couldn’t live with himself unless he went after Atok, and at least, tried to kill him.

The thought that he might have been the reason for their violent death infuriated him.

It took him two days to reach Agai. Standing at the summit of the mountain he scanned upward but didn’t see anything that caught his attention. It occurred to him he would have to walk around the whole mountain to find where the shaman lived.

He was down to his last meal when he started searching the summit’s circumference. That night, after making a cold camp, he ate the last remaining slice of boiled plants and the hearts of mescal that were pounded into a slab by his mother months ago.

In a dream, a wild spotted cat came to him and whispered into his ear, “Of silver, Atok is in fear. It’s touch is enough to send him away from here.”

When he woke in the morning he looked at his knife. It was a fine Spanish blade and the handle was wrought from silver. His people were familiar with the white metal that almost made the white man as crazy as the yellow metal did a 100 years ago.

He felt a pang of hunger as he prepared himself for the day. An hour later he came upon a cave opening.

“Atok you coward! Come face me! I am Akuuki. I’ve come to kill you!” he shouted.

An arrow came from the darkness and struck him in his left shoulder! He staggered backward and broke the deeply embedded arrow off as he drew his knife. Atok was standing in the entrance with a bow and laughing at him!

“Fool! You dare search me out! For that, I will eat your eyeballs while you’re still breathing!” he roared, while running towards him.

Akuuki held his ground and took the charge! They thrashed about on the desert sand as Akuuki plunged his knife into Atok’s body without apparent effect. When they blade snapped off, he took the silver handle and shoved it into Atok’s mouth!

The effect was immediate; Atok’s body stiffened and began decaying on top of Akuuki! The gods were so pleased with the evil shaman’s death that the skies opened up and rained upon the Mojave Desert for the first time in a year.

When Akuuki, whose name translates to ancestor, died many years later his story became a legend told around campfires of the Chemehuevi.

As It Stands, this tale is a nod to Native Americans who’s rich verbal heritage includes classic stories of good versus evil.

‘See ya in the great beyond’

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Three men walked in single file under the light of a full moon in the Sahara Desert.

They were deserters from the French Legion. If their unit caught them they’d be summarily shot. Yet, they took the risk to get away from their notoriously cruel captain.

All had been severely punished for minor infractions numerous times. They were stationed at an oasis, Azerbu, located in the Libyan Desert, when they decided the risk of deserting outweighed their lives under their crazed superior.

All three men, Americans seeking adventure, found themselves involuntary Legionnaires in January of 1840.  The three devil-may-care Americans who sought adventure found only misery.

They were forced to work, and do military drills in the hot Sahara sun every day. Then they would have to stand guard duty at night. It pushed many men beyond their physical endurance, breaking them down physically, and even killing them.

Between the notoriously bad food, fiery days, numbing routines, and harsh treatment from the captain, the three men plotted to escape. It took them months to achieve their goal. Circumstances had to be just right.

All they knew about their surroundings was that they were in the Kufra District of Libya, about 150 miles to the northwest of Kufra. Having only been stationed in Azerbu since they enlisted, their knowledge of what lay ahead in the world’s hottest desert was minimal at best.

But they were all young, still in their 20s, and strong-willed enough to risk their lives for freedom.

The night they left all three were on guard duty. They each stuffed a backpack of essentials in them (including a change of civilian clothes), and brought two canteens of water. A coarse blanket was rolled up and tied onto the top of the backpack. They also took their rifles and extra ammunition.

The men had no trouble slipping past their sleepy comrades and getting to a grove of palm trees ten miles outside the fort. They knew it would be just hours before the sun came up and the search for them would get underway immediately.

After talking with local workers who were allowed to enter the fort during the day to do domestic duties, they had found out about the hiding place ten miles from the fort in a wadi that had some ancient caves concealed by local vegetation.

Their mission was to get to those caves and hide out during the day. The following night they planned to strike out for Kufra on foot.

When they reached their destination they selected a cave and crawled inside of it. The small opening gave way to a larger area where it was possible to stand up. Anyone coming in after them would be an easy target for the trio.

They slept throughout the day. Roscoe, the oldest of the three, was the first to wake up as the sun slipped out of the sky. He stood up, stretched, and gave his partners a kick to rouse them from their dreams.

“Easy Roscoe!” Henry complained.

“That time already,” Ben said, sitting up and peering out the entrance.

They each chewed on some beef jerky, while taking small sips of water to get it down. After packing up, they cautiously ventured outside. A hyena cried out at the full moon. A cheetah, hunched behind a thick cluster of vegetation, warily watched the men walk by.

Roscoe took out his compass and looked up at the clear skies. The stars glittered like diamonds as he sought familiar constellations.

“Northwest is this way boys. Let’s set a good pace. We have 140 miles to go.

The men silently walked in single file, lost in their thoughts.

Henry, from Dallas, Texas, was trying to compare how hot it was in the panhandle during the summer, compared to this desert. It was making him homesick.

Ben, who was from Boston, Massachusetts, thought he’d been in the hottest place on earth when he took a stagecoach to Dallas, Texas where he met up with Henry. He knew better now.

Both men responded to an ad that Roscoe ran in the newspapers, looking for individuals interested in adventure. When Roscoe rode down from Laredo to Dallas, to meet with the two men who responded to his ad, he wondered what kind of experience each would bring to the table.

Over beer in a Dallas saloon, the three men got to know each other. Both Texans immediately recognized that Ben was a greenhorn despite the western garb he was wearing.

After a few hours of steady drinking, Ben admitted that he was a librarian back home and was bored to death with his life. He always wanted to go on an adventure to the Wild West, or anywhere else in the world that offered excitement.

Both Texans were uneducated. Neither could read or write their name. Roscoe had to get a friend to write-up the adventure ad for him. But, they were both outdoorsmen familiar with weapons and horses.

Henry and Roscoe were raised on small ranches, but left early in their lives to become cowboys driving cattle along the “Beef Trail” to New Orleans. One of the things that motivated the two men was a restless urge to see more than cattle on dusty drives.

Though they never met, they were of one mind when it came to traveling. After that saloon meeting in Dallas the men agreed to go to Europe first. They pooled their funds and agreed to share everything from that time forward.

After a series of drunks in French bars, they were recruited into the French Foreign Legion by what they thought were drinking buddies. Once the two Texans made their mark, and Ben signed his name, they passed out.

When they woke in the morning they were in the French Foreign Legion.

As they trudged through the night towards Kufra, the men were trying to keep their spirits up. Ben estimated that if they walked 20 miles a night it would take about seven nights to reach Kufra.

Just before the sun started its journey up in the sky they came across a small wadi. The pool of water was brackish and they didn’t try to drink it. They tied their blankets together with pieces of rope to make a tent for shade.

The trio kept constant guard by rotating the duty through the day. Sleeping came easy as they were exhausted. Ben figured they had enough supplies left to last a week.

Two days later a monster sandstorm separated the trio.

When Henry woke he had his blanket wrapped around his head and his body was half buried in sand. As he dug himself out, coughing all the while, he wondered what happened to the others.

It was daylight, and the fierce sun beat down on his head as he looked around for his hat and Charleville musket. It didn’t take long for him realize it was a fool’s errand. It was like looking for needles in a sea of sand.

He gave up and thought about searching for his partners. His odds of finding them were as long as finding his hat or musket. He didn’t even know what direction to turn. Confused and dispirited, he found a pile of stones to sit on. He leaned back and took the canteen out of it’s pouch on his belt, and sipped from it.

It was almost empty. He checked the other one. It was still full. He still had food, but didn’t feel like eating. He was discouraged and exhausted when night fell like a cool blanket on the desert floor.

As he sat there, head nodding in an effort to sleep, a voice pierced his thoughts.

“There you are!” Roscoe said.

“Looks like you made it!” Ben congratulated him.

His joy at seeing his two partners didn’t hide the fact that they were hovering a couple of feet above the sand. One part of his brain said that was impossible, and the other part said…”Oh, no!

Reading his mind they both smiled reassuringly.

“Listen Henry. There’s a caravan coming this way today. There’s an English woman on it who will help you get home.

But what about you fellas?”

“As you’ve guessed by now, we didn’t make it partner. But the good news is we’re going on an adventure better than anything we ever dreamed about. See ya in the great beyond.”

As It Stands, you can’t keep an adventuresome soul down for long.

The Reluctant Ghost Whisperer

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Sven wasn’t always a ghost whisperer.

He was like any other kid on the block growing up. Nothing special. No superpowers. Nothing that separated him from his peers. But that changed when he got out of the Army at 22-years-old.

As a combat veteran in Afghanistan, Sven saw more than his share of people die. Friends and enemies. Death didn’t scare him. He always understood he could die at any time.

There was a moment, when a sniper’s bullet passed through his cheek and shattered his teeth, when Death eagerly hovered nearby, waiting to see if his time had come.

The first thing Sven did when he mustered out of the military was to buy a used Harley motorcycle from a high school friend. Then he pointed the Harley north, towards Northern California.

He was trying to stick to the old Pacific Highway Route 1, but discovered it no longer went straight through to Oregon. There were areas where the road disappeared off the steep cliffs into the ocean. He followed the bypasses when it came to those points.

One afternoon he was cruising along enjoying the scenery when a pickup truck came barreling up behind him at a high-speed! He veered hard to his right to avoid getting run over, masterfully bringing the Harley to a stop in the dirt running alongside the highway.

It took him a few minutes to compose himself before he got back on the road. He didn’t go far when he saw something suspicious. He pulled his Harley off the road and hopped off.

What he noticed were dark black skid marks on the road leading to the drop-off on the left. He walked across the road and looked down the 100-foot embankment. A pickup truck was turned upside down, partly in the Eel River, and on the rough shoreline.

He didn’t hesitate.

When he got to the bottom he spotted a body that was thrown from the truck. He checked it out. There was nothing he could do, so he went to the pickup truck to see if the someone was still inside, and alive.

He wasn’t. Sven shook his head sadly. “Was it worth it?” he wondered.

“Oh, Hell no! I didn’t mean to lose control,” a voice next to him replied.

Sven jumped up and spun around in alarm. Then he saw something strange. The dead guy was standing up and talking to him! But…the dead guy was still trapped in the pickup when he looked over at it.

“Listen…you gotta tell my mom I love her, okay?” the dead man pleaded.

“Yeah sure…what’s her name?” he automatically replied.

“Joan. Tell her I love her, and I wished I wasn’t speeding.”

Then he was gone.

Sven stood there for minutes in shock. He didn’t believe in ghosts. How could this happen to him? Was it a flashback of some kind? As he climbed back up the steep embankment he regretted not having a cell phone yet. He’d have to flag someone down when he got back up top.

For once in his short interesting life, he was glad to see a cop when a California Highway Patrol car came down the road. He stayed for nearly an hour answering questions. He told the investigator everything…except, of course, about the ghost part.

He didn’t want to end up in a VA psych ward trying to convince someone he didn’t have PTSD.

Two days later. Southern Humboldt County.

Sven sat on his Harley and watched the latter-day hippies and wannabes mingle in the supermarket parking lot. He was parked next to a small park area – a rude sign proclaimed it “The People’s Park” – with two wooden tables packed with homeless people and travelers.

It was nearly dark when he decided to go to the motel room he rented during the day. As he locked up the Harley in front of his room, a stranger laughed, and said, “These kids don’t know nothing about mother nature.”

“Say what?”

 “You know. Those punks over by the supermarket and park. They don’t even know what they’re pretending to be.

“Excuse me dude. Do I know you?

“Oh, I doubt it man.

Then he disappeared, as Sven blinked in stunned disbelief.

What was going on? He told himself one more time that he didn’t believe in ghosts. Why was he having these hallucinations? He wasn’t using any drugs. It was several days since he had any liquor.

Sven had a hard time going to sleep. Just as he started to slip off into dreamland someone said, “I was murdered in this bed.

He sprung up and threw the blanket aside! Standing at the end of the bed was a young woman. Her sad eyes drew him to her. He tensely waited to see if she’d speak again.

“The guy that runs these crummy hotel is a murderer!” she hotly claimed.

“What can I do about it?” he asked, while wondering if he lost his mind.

“Tell the cops where my body is.”

“Where’s that?”

“Underneath your bed, below the floorboards.”

He jumped out of the bed at the same time she disappeared. He pinched himself to see if it was just a nightmare. It wasn’t. He’d just conversed with a ghost. He went outside hoping the cool night air would clear the cobwebs in his head.

“There he is!” a woman standing by the motel office shouted, pointing at Sven.

Suddenly he was surrounded by ghosts! He could see through their bodies, but they maintained enough of an image for him to tell they were once human. Questions flew at him from all angles.

“I’m buried underneath the parking lot, will you tell someone?”

“The manager is a murderer. Will you stop him?”

“Will you tell my family I’m buried beneath the floorboards in the main office?”

“Will you help me?” a chorus of undead voices pleaded.

While trying to hold on to his sanity Sven spoke out, “I don’t know why you picked me to haunt. I never believed in ghosts.”

“Joel told us you were a ghost whisperer, ” one of the young women said.

“Whose Joel?”

“He was killed when his pickup truck went off a cliff recently. He passed the word on that you could see and hear him,” the woman explained.

Sven was stumped. He didn’t know what to do. This supernatural drama playing out had him as a central character.

Then he heard someone scream in terror! The ghosts were gone when he headed for the room where he thought the scream came from. Without even thinking, he kicked the door in.

Bent over a young woman in bed, with his hands around her neck, was the motel manager!

Sven ran over and punched the manager in his jaw just as he was letting go of the woman who was gasping for air. The punch shattered his jaw, and when Sven put a chokehold on him, he passed out.

“Do you have a cell phone?” he asked the young woman who was still gagging. She pointed at the end table. He dialed 911 and sat on the end of the bed, watching to see if the manager woke up.

Afterward, the police hailed him as a hero. Everyone in Garberville was stunned to hear about the murderer in their midst. That he was a serial killer made it a national news story.

After talking with police investigators he refused to grant any interviews. He didn’t want to be a public figure. When he got back on the road, going north towards Eureka, he started thinking that what happened was probably a once in a lifetime thing.

He certainly hoped so.

As the days went by he lost himself riding his Harley along the beautiful northern coast. He stayed in motels and continued to head north with no real destination in mind.

One night, while he stayed at a little offbeat motel just below Seattle, Washington, someone woke him up. He opened his eyes warily expecting the worst. He wasn’t disappointed.

A man dressed in animal furs and holding an ancient rifle stood in the corner of his room staring at him. It took all he had not to get up and run out of the room screaming!

“Hold on sonny…” the man said, “I don’t want anything from you. I just heard that you can talk with ghosts and I wanted to see if it were true. I know you can see me now, but can you really hear me?”  

Inspiration struck Sven like a lightning bolt. He didn’t answer the ghost. Instead he just stared dumbly in his direction.

After a long pause the man shook his head, “I didn’t think so. You can’t believe everything you hear,” he said.

“It’s too bad…I could have told him where to find that hoard of gold I stashed just before the Indians got hold of my hide.

“Wait a minute! Did you say gold hoard?” Sven suddenly piped up.

“It’s too bad,” the ghost said mischievously, before disappearing.

As It Stands, maybe Sven won’t be so quick to deny his talent next time.

The Blood Roses of Halfeti

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Prudence was a third generation Hoffenberg whose family owned the biggest hothouse nursery in the state of New Hampshire.

The Nursery – Heavenly Sent Gardens – specialized in exotic flowers and rare roses. The entire Hoffenberg family was involved in the business, from top to bottom. They stuck together ever since immigrating from Germany in 1919.

What started out as a flower stand, bloomed into a multi-acre showroom of flowers from around the world. Rarity and Quality was their business motto. Shoppers from the whole east coast, and from around the world, regularly visited the famous nursery.

Prudence’s day was taken up with ordering specialty flowers from Asia to Zambia. The best seller list was a who’s who of the flower world.

The top five were: the Kadupul flower, mainly found in the jungles of Sri Lanka. This incredibly rare flower only blooms at midnight and dies before dawn.

Campion flowers was their second bestseller. Once they could only be found in the British territory of Gibraltar. This flower also has a short lifespan and prior to the Hoffenberg’s obtaining some, they could only be found in the botanical gardens on Gibraltar and London.

Their number three best-seller was the Ghost Orchid, that only grows in Cuba and Florida. It was the demands for high temperatures and high humidity that made the ghost orchid so rare.

Number four on the hit list, was Chocolate cosmos native to Mexico. Sadly, this flower has been extinct in the wild for years.

Wrapping up their top five was, Blood Roses from Halfeti. Turkey accounts for 25 percent of all species of roses and none more famous than the Blood Rose of Halfeti. The secret was what to feed it.

Heavenly Sent Gardens worked with experts in Turkey for years before finally obtaining the secret to keeping it healthy. It came at great cost.

As Prudence walked past the section of Blood Roses in her daily hothouses inspection, she stopped to admire one that was blooming. Once again she wondered if it was worth the price.

Haydin Hoffenberg, Prudence’s 21-year-old grandson, was very much involved in the family business. His job however was unique, and dangerous. He had to go out and find the main ingredient for the Blood Roses very special feeding times.

Blood. Not just any blood. It couldn’t be older than one hour and must be given at right at midnight.

The second generation of Hoffenberg’s were the first family members to approach Turkish agriculturists who led them to the, then underground, market of Blood Roses. A corrupt Turkish regime later made their importation legal.

Only very special people ordered blood roses. Not only because they were very expensive, but because they had to sign a contract stating it was their responsibility to provide fresh blood (defined as less than an hour old) for the rose. How they did that, was up to them. No refunds.

Rather than bleed family members dry, the second generation of Hoffenberg’s chose to kidnap a feeder victim, and keep them alive for as long as possible. A special underground bunker was built during the cold war with Russia just for that purpose.

Located on their own land, near the hothouses, the bunker became the last resting place for numerous victims over the years. Haydin Hoffenberg’s job was to “maintain the feeder victim,” and make sure they stayed as healthy as possible, despite living in restraints.

It was harder than it sounds. Not catching the victim, but keeping them alive. Sometimes they just gave up and died after a year or so. Others lived for years. They even had one feeder who lived there for a decade.

Finding new feeder victims was a delicate process.

After decades of refinement, the family had a formula for selecting feeders. They should be in their early 20s, healthy, and have very few (if any) family members. Orphans were all right, if they were at least in their teens.

Homeless people weren’t as reliable, as they didn’t tend to be too healthy. They were sometimes just taken as temporary substitutes, while the family kept searching for the ideal candidate.

This system thrived for nearly 80 years before crashing down in a night of horror.

Among his duties, Haydin had to feed the blood roses. He became an expert at hooking up IV’s to drain the feeder’s veins. It was his habit to go down in the bunker about thirty minutes before midnight. It gave him plenty of time to set things up and go back to the nursery.

Being raised in a family of psychopaths, Haydin saw nothing wrong with what he was doing. It was a family thing. Looking at the victims as feeders, made it easier for him to do his job. He was a little excited about finding the new feeder.

He was living in the streets of the city, but looked healthy, and best of all, he was a loner shunned by other denizens of the streets. He knew that because he asked around.

He caught the new feeder sleeping in an alley. Gave him a shot that would have knocked a gorilla out, and managed to get his big body into the back of his SUV. When he got home, he got his younger brother, Nicholas, to help him take the feeder down into the bunker.

As he walked outside he looked up at the full moon overhead. It was beautiful. He pulled his keys out and unlocked the metal cover protecting the door over the bunker. He idly wondered if the feeder was conscious yet?

He flipped the light switch, but it didn’t come on. Annoyed, he wondered when the last time was since he changed it? He warily went down the stairs until he reached bottom.

He started to take a step, heard a growl, and stopped! The growl got deeper! Something was thrashing around in the room. He heard something tearing, and then a roar of rage! The werewolf slammed into Haydin and knocked his breath out!

Another low growl…and Haydin screamed as the werewolf slashed him apart with it’s deadly claws and teeth!

The public was stunned when the family announced it was closing down the business two days later. Everything was sold at 75 percent off. The only thing that Heavenly Sent Gardens didn’t sell were the remaining Blood Roses…and that’s because they were all dead.

As It Stands, how do you make your garden grow?

The Gentle Embrace of Death

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

GangstersLouie Marozzi wasn’t part of anyone’s gang.

It’s true that Al Capone, Dion O’Banion, and Bugs Malone all asked him, at one time or the other, to drive trucks for them. But he turned them all down. He wanted to stay independent…no matter the cost.

Not only was Louie an exceptional driver, he was a giant of a man. At six-feet, seven-inches, and 340 pounds, he was a specimen to behold. People thought Big Louie, as many called him, wasn’t too bright.

He seldom spoke and when he did he stumbled over words, going from Italian to American in the same sentence. His appearance, with a dark unibrow and jutting forehead, probably furthered the narrative about his low intelligence.

He was slow to anger. He didn’t drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. The few friends he had were homeless, and lived on the streets of Chicago. His daily challenge was to stay out of the way of warring gangs.

Louie saw plenty of guys get gunned down in a hail of bullets from a passing car. The gangsters spent as much time killing each other as they did innocent victims. Dead men turned up all the time.

It was that environment that gave Louie his chance to kill people without getting caught. He wasn’t a violent killer, and never used a gun. He preferred to put his victims to sleep in his firm, yet strangely gentle, chokehold.

Unlike some psychopaths, Louie knew it was wrong to kill people. He justified his hobby by killing what he judged were bad men. He tried to keep the murders down to just a couple a week.

With the rate of weekly murders in the streets of Chicago in 1931, two more a week were easily lost in the shifting statistics.

In Louie’s mind he was doing his criminal victims a favor. They probably would have been violently killed by someone else. He was nice enough to make their passing painless and not traumatic.

Even in that violent time and city, there were whispered rumors of a serial strangler stalking the streets. The police, aware of the rumors – and the circumstances involving a string of choking victims – kept their eyes open for a suspect.

One day his friend Leo emerged from the streets, and hunted him down.

“I need your help Louie,” the shriveled old man pleaded.

“Sure Leo.

“A couple of thugs in Bugs Moran’s gang took Angelo this morning! They beat him up and dragged him into one of those big black cars and took off!”

“Why they do that?” Louie asked.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s about a briefcase he found in an alley, and they were looking for it.

“You sure Bug’s boy’s did it?”

“Yeah…I happen to know a couple of them. Ran a few errands for ’em.

“I’ll see what I can do come amico.”

As Louie walked back to where his truck was parked, he noticed a couple of thugs loitering around it. The first thing that went through his mind was Angelo convinced them he had the briefcase, in order to stay alive.

The normally calm and composed Louie was slowly melting away, as he watched them from the window of a shop he went inside of. He didn’t like being threatened. He looked at both men closely, memorizing their faces.

There was a rear exit in the shop and Louie took it out to the alley. He knew where the Moran mobsters hung out. There was one location in particular, a house, that he suspected they’d taken Angelo too.

It was a couple of miles away, but that didn’t bother him. He liked a good brisk walk. It helped calm him down. He didn’t want to shed blood. He just wanted to gently put them to sleep in his powerful arms.

He was right about the house. It was on a big lot and fenced in, but Louie had no trouble getting over the fence. As he got closer he heard a muffled scream. Louie sat down and waited for hours until the moon climbed to the top of the sky, before overpowering the sleeping guard on the front porch.

He went through the front door, surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. He took care of the two thugs sleeping in the living room. He went to the cellar door and opened it. He softly descended the stairs.

Another guard was asleep on a chair. Louie wished him sweet dreams and sent him to eternity. Angelo was a bloody pulp. His hands were tied behind him with twine, and he was unconscious.

Louie approached his body on the floor. He was laying sideways. He checked for a pulse and was surprised to find a weak one. He probably wasn’t going to make it from the looks of his smashed skull.

Louie sent him gently into the night.

No one knew what happened at the Bugs Moran gang’s house, because it was engulfed in flames set by Louie that night.

Locals said Moran’s gang never bothered Louie again. Some say it was because Al Capone and his thugs took a lot of Bug’s time just trying to survive.

Other’s say that Louie Marozzi was the most feared and famous killer in Chicago… that the public never heard about.

As It Stands, this tale is a chapter out of the urban lore from Chicago’s “gangster days.”

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?